‘Through privilege. People like you and me have an unbelievable amount of privilege and therefore we have a huge amount of responsibility.’ It appears Noam Chomsky is speaking directly to members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA); specifically, some of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in these famous words.
The elite cadre of SAN is a privileged caucus that many young lawyers aspire and dream of joining. It confers certain privileges that many within the group are keen to maintain. The position of the NBA president is one of the many privileges members of the Inner Bar have been enjoying.
However, the forthcoming election of the NBA is giving voice to dissenting and rebellious members of the legal profession.
This development is so worrisome to some members of the Inner Bar that a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Osun State and Secretary to Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, BOSAN, Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN; has publicly expressed concerns over the possibility of a non-SAN emerging as NBA president.
Awomolo, in a letter to Chief T.J.O Okpoko, SAN and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, BOSAN; expressed concerns over an alleged move by members of the Outer Bar to wrestle the office of the NBA president from the members of the Inner Bar.
Even though the constitution of the NBA did not make being a SAN a requirement for NBA Presidency; the SANs have monopolized that position for a while.
According to a statement by Chief Ferdinand Orbih, SAN in response to the letter by Awomolo; there have been 15 non-SANs who have occupied that position. Some took the silk after becoming president. Between 1960 and 1991, out of the 15 NBA presidents within that period; only A.N Anyameme became president as a full member of the Inner Bar. In fact, illustrious names like Rotimi Williams, Richard Akinjide, B.O Benson took up the silk; post emergence as NBA President.
The ‘monopolization’ of the position by SAN started in 2000. Even within that era, Lanke Odogiyon who was NBA president between 2005-2006 never took up the robe.
Why is the potential emergence of a non-SAN as president posing a threat?
One of the objectives of the Bar as stated in the constitution of the NBA is; “Establishment of schemes for the promotion of the welfare, security, and economic advancement of members of the legal profession.”
It is obvious to anyone living in Nigeria that welfare of members of the Bar has significantly been hard-hit. Young lawyers are working under conditions that could be described as slavery; with the poor pay offered by many law firms.
According to a report by the International Centre for Investigative Report; lawyers in Lagos, Abuja and other cities in Nigeria earn as little as N10,000 monthly. Many of them also cope with constant threats of sack by their employers. Some even have to adopt ‘ambulance chase’ approach; by hanging around the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) office in search of clients.
In 2018, the NBA under the leadership of Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), set up a 13-man committee. Its task was to “formulate a pragmatic framework and blueprint on the issue of welfare that will cover all categories of lawyers.”
The resolution was for the adoption of N50,000 as minimum wage for lawyers. Also recommended was a monitoring committee to ensure enforcement. However, it is clear that the blueprint developed by the committee is as worthless as the paper used in printing or writing it.
Although the economic situation cannot be blamed on the SANs, they are nevertheless the privileged few. If they want to continue to enjoy the privilege of exclusive access to the office; they should put everything in place to ensure better pay for those lawyers.
One thing is clear. It appears that the supply of lawyers is more than the demand. Therefore, the basic economics projection is that price (wages and earning) will continue to fall. But the SANs by virtue of being members of the Inner Bar still enjoy humongous patronage; as well as the resultant economic privileges. Therefore, are they leading by example by paying well? Or they also see employing young lawyers as doing them a favour?
This is where the problem lies.
Some owners of law firms have a very skewed view of labour relationship. Senior lawyers treat young lawyers as “interns” instead of employees that should be accorded the expected dignity. Changing this attitude will partly help resolve the poor pay conundrum. Will it resolve the problem completely? Of course not, but attitude is also important and a good start.
Meanwhile, the association will elect the President and other executive officers for the 2020 – 2022 term in an online exercise. Specifically, the election is scheduled for July 24 to 25.
However, the upcoming NBA election cannot only be about SAN or non-SAN; but about who can better address welfare of the members of the NBA, especially struggling junior lawyers. This rebellion is at the very heart of this crisis.
NB: We intentionally left out the names of the contestants as this piece is not an endorsement of any of the candidates